By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Janis-Aparicio says she is outraged that the LAEDC, which includes city and county officials on its board and is known for unbiased economic forecasting, would hire itself out to a corporation like Wal-Mart.
“They were already advocating for Wal-Mart at the hearing,” the LAANE leader said, “even though they claimed not to have finished their research.”
UFCW Local 770 is currently absorbed with its labor dispute with the major supermarket chains, so LAANE is taking on the fight against the Inglewood Wal-Mart proposed at a spot near Hollywood Park and the Forum. Janis-Aparicio and her colleagues are lining up ministers and store clerks to go door-to-door to fight the ballot measure that the company almost certainly will get placed on the March ballot.
The fight involves every element of Inglewood politics. A hotly disputed City Council election that went to the ballot several times over the last year ultimately ended with the ouster of Councilwoman Lorraine Johnson, a Wal-Mart backer, and election of Ralph Franklin, a UFCW business agent.
Even opponents of the Inglewood measure credit it for sheer chutzpah. It would invalidate any city law on development standards or wage laws passed since August 14. It would bar public hearings on Wal-Mart’s plan for the project site. It would virtually mandate approval by the community development and housing director. It would invalidate any competing ballot measure, if it gets more votes. And, although it would pass with a mere majority vote, it could never be rescinded unless two-thirds of Inglewood residents later vote to scrap it.
Janis-Aparicio insists that no initiative like this one has ever before been tried in the U.S. Local 770 President Rick Icaza brands the move “Orwellian.” Community activist and author Earl Ofari Hutchinson says it threatens the entire city — and that it will probably pass.
“The City of Inglewood has no chance of competing against the propaganda mill of a Wal-Mart,” Hutchinson says. “Their power is awesome. They can win the propaganda war.”
Janis-Aparicio doesn’t agree. “There’s only so much slick stuff that counters your pastor knocking on the door with a kid whose job is going to be lost,” she says. “If this passes, every developer with deep pockets is going to feel free to completely undercut all of the protections that we have developed. We won’t let that happen.”
Wal-Mart’s response to the movement against it in Inglewood has been typical. “All these attempts by the grocery industry to limit competition,” Wal-Mart’s Peter Kanelos says, “are borne out of organized labor’s frustration that our associates have chosen not to join their union.”
Wal-Mart is a fixture of small-town Middle America where — according to countless TV documentaries and scholarly studies — its low prices push out mom-and-pop stores on Main Street and drive the town into an economic death spiral. Its reinvention as a Los Angeles shopping mall anchor is the result of several historic developments.
The company, founded in 1962 by former discount store worker Sam Walton, appeared willing to stay close to its South and Southwest base through Walton’s death in 1992. But as Wall Street’s need for a consistent winner took the place of Walton’s vision, Wal-Mart made a play for the big city. It breached the California market in Lancaster in the 1990s — and soon found economically desperate suburbs rolling out the welcome mat on the other side of the mountains.
Two factors led Los Angeles and smaller cities to plead for Wal-Mart to come to town. The first — a phenomenon called the fiscalization of land use — had been in effect since Proposition 13 passed in 1978 and forced cities and counties with little new property tax revenues to lust for big-box sales tax generators.
“There is a real contest here,” Abel explains. “The losers so far are housing interests and smart-growthers, and people like Eric Garcetti who see his mandate to protect neighborhoods threatened by big-boxes sucking the economic life out of corridor streets and neighborhoods. It’s not good and evil, but there are choices to be made and right now it’s not a fair fight.”
The other factor that stripped Target and Kmart, but especially Wal-Mart, of their former pariah status was the self-destruction in the 1990s of Los Angeles’ long and historic department store culture.
West Coast retail empires were born in downtown L.A. more than 100 years ago when Hamburger & Sons (later known as the May Co.), then the first Robinson’s, the first Broadway and the first Bullock’s opened within blocks of each other. As they expanded and moved west they morphed into stand-alone high-fashion palaces like Bullock’s Wilshire, which showcased avant-garde art and culture when stodgy museums would have none of it.
Then, when the Broadway opened a store on Crenshaw in 1947 with a wild art-deco fin to beckon drivers, and May Co. responded with a competing store across the street, other stores quickly moved in to become part of the new shopping Oz. The shopping center, with department store anchors and attached boutiques, was born. Soon came the enclosed suburban mall, food courts, mall rats, Valley Girls, and a whole new style of shopping — and living.